100 Inspiring, Surprising, Time-Saving, Stress-Reducing, Jolly Good Holiday Ideas

From decorating to gift giving, let this list of ideas from experts, RS staffers, and readers inspire every aspect of your holiday season.

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Photo by Ellen Moran/Getty Images

DECORATIONS

1. Instead of decorating my mantel, I create a holiday tableau on a bar cart with candles and ornaments. I love that it's portable. Keep it in your foyer or living room and wheel it into the dining area for dinner. –Serena Dugan, cofounder of Serena & Lily, a home and lifestyle brand

2. At my last holiday party, I made a "bow wall" using dozens of stick-on gift bows. Adhere them to the wall like on a present, evenly spaced. –Ebony Chafey, founder of Snow & Graham, a paper company

3. Grouping decorative objects on trays helps holiday accents look deliberate and put-together. I like to fill a trio of apothecary jars with pretty ornaments and surround them with votives. —Thom Filicia, interior designer

4. I love this idea if you don't have room for a tree: Use big bunches of evergreen branches in oversize heavy cylinder vases instead. You can hang ornaments on the branches. —Maxwell Ryan, founder of Apartment Therapy

5. You don't need holiday decorations to give a room a beautiful, wintry look. I cluster white objects–vases, candlesticks, sculptural pieces–in different shapes and textures on a mantel, coffee table, or console. —Rebecca Finell, founder and designer of Finell, a housewares line

6. I buy a bunch of magnolia leaves from a flower shop and loosely scatter them in clusters down the middle of a white tablecloth. It's beautiful and so easy. —Tara Guerard, event planner

7. In the same spot every year (mine is a seldom-used kitchen drawer), stash a container of replacement lights and ornament hooks. Unless you know where these essentials are, the hunt will deter you from fixing the problem right away. —Nancy Negovetich, RS copy chief

8. It makes me crazy when tapers wobble in candlestick holders. RabLabs has a fix: a holder with a ridged socket—like a light-bulb's—that lets you screw in each taper. The grooves grip the wax, so the candle stays put. (To buy: Maquina candlestick, $75, rablabs.com.) —Samantha Zabell, RealSimple.com editorial assistant

9. I make basic votive holders look custom by wrapping a strand of leather cording or metallic thread around the middle. —Yifat Oren, event planner

10. I toss a sheepskin throw on a couch, a stool, or in front of the fireplace to cozy up a space with some winter white. —Josie Maran, model and founder of Josie Maran Cosmetics

11. I use gelt to make glittery Hanukkah centerpieces. Fill clear glass cylinder vases in different shapes and various heights with the foil-wrapped chocolate candy, and cluster them in the center of the table or line them up down the middle. —Geri Albin Pagano, RS reader

12. I love making a table festive by stringing silver jingle bells into garlands and hanging them on the backs of all the chairs. —Meredith Waga Perez, owner of Belle Fleur New York, a floral studio

13. Other than fresh cookies, the happiest smells in our house come from the all-natural holiday decorations we use: pinecone centerpieces, fir wreaths, and cedar-wrapped votives. —Jessica Alba, actress and founder of The Honest Company, a brand of toxin-free family goods

14. It's not necessary to buy a bunch of cake stands to create a dessert display. I set up a super-easy sweets station on my mantel by placing plates of treats on top of gift-wrapped boxes and wide-bottom vases in different heights. —Ebony Chafey

15. We number holiday storage boxes in the order we'll need to bring them out. Box No. 1 holds ornaments, because we do the tree first. Box No. 2 is gift wrap, and so on. —Jessica Fecteau, RS home assistant

16. Instead of hanging mistletoe from the doorjamb, I hang a disco ball for guests to kiss under. It's twinkly, it sparkles, and it adds some glamour. Jonathan Adler, designer and potter

17. I cover the kids' table with black paper, adhered with double-stick tape. Then I put out buckets of chalk, mini pine trees, and small woodland animals and let them go to town. —Christiane Lemieux, founder of DwellStudio and executive creative director of Wayfair

THE TREE

18. The kids get the bottom half of our tree, to decorate with papier-maché and soft ornaments, and I get the top, to dress up with the gorgeous glass ornaments I've collected for years. —Michelle Kohanzo, managing director of The Land of Nod

19. Here's my easy trick to bring back the sparkle to old, vintage ornaments: Apply a coat of clear, glittery nail polish. —Yolanda Wikiel, RS senior editor

20. My favorite Christmas-light palette is nontraditional: a mix of deep blues, amber, and gold. You can find the best variety of colors at christmaslightsetc.com. —Bronson Van Wyck, event planner

21. We make ornaments out of oranges. Just push cloves all over them in patterns. Their scent combined with pine needles is heavenly. —Heath Goldman, RS food assistant

22. Heirlooms, like silver baby cups, costume jewelry, and even Grandpa's glasses, make fine and meaningful alternatives to store-bought ornaments. —Anna Brockway, cofounder of Chairish, an online consignment shop

23. The highlight of my Christmas season is the Sunday- afternoon tree-trimming cocktail party I host for my 10 closest friends. I put the lights on and hang a third of the ornaments the night before, so the day is more about catching up and having fun. —Elaine Griffin, interior designer

24. I love the tree skirt I grew up with but have never found a similar one. So now I have my eye on something totally different: Terrain's clean-lined copper tree collar. (To buy: Copper tree skirt, $88, shopterrain.com.) —Chelsea Renaud, RS reader

ENTERTAINING

25. Everyone loves brownies. I like to doctor mine up with chopped peppermint candies or dried chilies and cinnamon. —Jenny McCoy, pastry chef and author of Desserts for Every Season

26. I host Christmas Eve dinner for my extended family every year, catering from a restaurant that serves authentic food from a foreign country we don't know much about. My husband and I are the only ones who know which country. (The anticipation is hilarious.) I also research some facts about the locale to share. —Jacklyn Monk, RS deputy managing editor

27. I love the idea of a holiday potluck, where everyone is asked to bring a favorite childhood dish, along with copies of the recipe. This way, every dish brings with it a story to tell. —Maxwell Ryan

28. A cocktail rimmed in edible glitter telegraphs "holiday fun." I buy the glitter on amazon.com. —David Stark, event designer

29. Adding rosemary leaves to Champagne makes it look even more special. It's my go-to holiday drink. Kelly Wearstler, interior and lifestyle designer

30. Here's one of my favorite holiday "mocktail" recipes for kids: Fill an 8-ounce glass with ¼ cup pomegranate juice, ½ cup sparkling water, and a handful of pomegranate seeds. Catherine McCord, founder of Weelicious.com

31. I fill two drink dispensers with fresh punch—one with alcohol and one without. Start with a juice, like cranberry or apple. Add sparkling water, mint or basil, and berries or sliced cucumber. For the boozy version, finish with rum or vodka. —Michele Varian, boutique owner and product designer

32. Hire a bartender. I know, it sounds fancy and expensive. But I've found that it's actually surprisingly affordable (about $18 an hour) to hire a student (21 or older) from a local university to come over for a few hours during the party. —Joanna Goddard, blogger at A Cup of Jo

33. Caramelized bacon is always a hit. I serve bias-cut pieces in a bowl in the bar area. First dredge the bacon in light brown sugar, then pop it in the oven on a cookie sheet (about 8 minutes per side, at 350° F). —Amanda Hesser, cofounder and CEO of Food52.com

34. Someone (unnamed) in my family spikes his coffee with eggnog. —Sarah Humphreys, RS executive editor

35. For the holidays, we use eggnog in place of milk in our French toast recipe, with brioche bread and a touch of cinnamon. It makes for a truly special once-a-year meal. —Aerin Lauder, founder and creative director of lifestyle brand Aerin

36. Roasted almonds with herbs are a delicious treat. I mix the almonds with a handful of chopped herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, or any I have on hand. Pour into a big cast-iron skillet and roast at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until they smell toasted. While they're warm, toss with good olive oil and salt, then serve. —Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse

37. Our family always eats Danish kringle from O&H Bakery in Racine, Wisconsin, on Christmas morning. When I was growing up, it was sent by my dad's colleagues, and after he retired, we had one miserable holiday without it before we started ordering it ourselves. —Christopher Morocco, RS staff food editor

38. I like swirling cranberry sauce into vanilla-bean ice cream to give it a holiday twist. —Jenny McCoy

39. Every year, my family members and I hunt the grocery stores for cardone, a vegetable in the artichoke family with a celery-like look, to serve at our Christmas dinner. We boil it and then fry it as a nod to our Italian heritage. —Filomena Guzzardi, RS editorial production director

40. This year I'm using little snowflake-shaped cookie cutters to dress up hot cocoa for a holiday party. I'll spread whipped cream on a wax paper–lined baking sheet and pop it in the freezer. When it's frozen, I'll cut out the snowflakes and use them in place of marsh-mallows. —Stephanie Sisco, RS associate editor

41. For cookie decorating with more precision and less mess, I put the icing in squeezable condiment bottles. —Julie Peters, RS reader

42. I love any cookware that cuts down on cleanup, like HEX's dish set, which does triple duty: You can bake, serve, and freeze in each of the stackable, slideable geometric dishes. Made of ceramic-coated aluminum, they're durable and long-lasting. (To buy: HEX three-piece baking-dish set, $395, finell.co.) —Sarah Copeland, RS food director

43. I love a doughnut bar for a holiday party. Buy plain ones and set them out with toppings like flavored icings, chocolate and caramel sauce, sprinkles, and candy. —Mary Giuliani, caterer